It’s a common situation, common enough that it no longer shocks or surprises. A woman discovers that her partner is using pornography. There is no way of knowing how many couples this situation affects, for the simple reason that most of them keep it secret. Some women tell their close friends, others post on porn-related internet forums. The response is always the same. We mumble our commiserations for the woman’s misfortune and offer our best wishes for the future.

Oh—there’s one other thing we always do; or, more accurately, don’t do: we never, ever, ever mention the elephant in the room of porn.

Duality

In our dualistic world, we automatically and unconsciously divide everything in our awareness into good or bad, constantly assessing our environment for paths towards abundance and joy in all their forms (love, money, friendship, fulfilment) while seeking to avoid their opposites, lack and pain. We extend this judgment of events to the experiences of others. In the case of the couple wrestling with porn use we label the woman as ‘good’. She is the innocent victim of her weak-willed husband’s cravings while he is ‘bad’. It is he that needs to change. It is he that needs to stop using porn, he that needs counselling. Even though the woman may choose to attend counselling to support her husband, the implicit view is that she is not herself in need of any change.

Cue the trumpeting of an elephant.

In The Three Faces of Victim, veteran personal growth mentor Lynne Forrest writes that “every dysfunctional interaction… takes place on the victim triangle”. Forrest uses the ‘drama triangle’ to demonstrate that wherever dysfunction exists, we are all victims and we all have work to do. If a couple are in an otherwise satisfying relationship and one partner is using porn to a damaging extent, there is a significant likelihood that the other partner has unaddressed sexual issues of their own. The basis for this is, to quote the Queen song, “that crazy little thing called love”. What we call love is actually a resonance of fundamental similarities. The experience of a couple falling in love is that of both partners feeling exactly on the same wavelength while everyone else is to some extent off-station.

Like attracts like

An underlying law is in play here: like attracts like. Too much disparity in sexual expression prevents or dissolves most relationships. A woman who is well connected to her own sexuality expects a satisfying performance from her partner. Heavy porn users, by contrast, are often under-skilled in the bedroom. They tend to be unconfident love-makers who often suffer from premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction. That’s why they find it easier to look at images of women rather than deal with the shame of their inadequacies.

Sexuality is one of the fundamental similarities contributing to the forming of a couple; people in stable relationships tend to have similar views about sex; these may be similarly healthy—or similarly distorted. While men’s sexual distortions easily surface through porn, women’s imbalances tend to be repressed, creating the false impression they do not exist. I want to state clearly here that I am not trying to shift the blame for male porn use onto women. The man’s porn use quite likely predates his current relationship and often harks back to adolescence. What I am suggesting is that significant male porn use tends not to happen in isolation. There may be parallel, unidentified issues with sexual expression on his partner’s side.

Victim state

The last thing a woman coming to terms with their partner’s porn habit wants to hear is a banging noise from their own sexual skeleton closet

The last thing a woman coming to terms with their partner’s porn habit wants to hear is a banging noise from their own sexual skeleton closet. This, however, is a disempowering response. As long as she remains the ‘good’ woman, needing no change, she remains in a victim state. Her future is determined by the actions of another. Her partner may remain in denial over the effects of his porn use indefinitely. To break this deadlock the woman may choose to leave the relationship. Beware: this is merely treading water. If she has not addressed her own sexual issues, the same like-attracts-like process that originally drew her to a man with a penchant for porn will tend to lead her straight into the arms of another.

The elephant in the room of porn reveals an opportunity for female empowerment that usually goes begging. For as soon as a woman in this situation accepts that she, too, would benefit from some internal work, a course of positive action appears. By consciously and willingly opening a dialogue with her own sexual fears she allows them to rise to the surface where they can be addressed. Our society’s ingrained sexual negativity has bred generations of women afraid of being branded with what is perhaps our worst epithet: slut.

Acceptance

The accepting and releasing of sexual wounds slowly brings the woman into a new and healthier relationship with herself. This ultimately forces her partner into a choice: shape up or ship out. Again this happens through the agency of like-attracts-like. By shifting to a healthy connection with her own sexuality she alters her fundamental sexual resonance with her porn-using partner. To maintain the relationship he must realign with her through facing his own sexual issues. Otherwise they will experience ‘falling out of love’ which is akin to a once well-tuned radio slowly drifting out of tune. Actively driving one’s relationship to a make-or-break situation may seem a high-risk strategy, but it’s a win-win situation for the woman. She either forces her partner to address his porn use or makes space in her life for a new man with a healthier attitude to sex.

The stigma and shame surrounding all sexual dysfunction, including porn use, make it easier for men to remain in denial about the negative impact of their habit rather than to undertake a healing journey. Women are usually much more adept than men at the kind of emotional rewiring necessary to shift from distortion and disconnection to engagement and empowerment, whether it’s regarding sexuality or any other aspect of the human psyche. This suggests that instead of being the passive victims of men’s porn consumption, the wives and partners of porn users can become a powerful agency in the war against porn, actively creating an environment where sexual dysfunction is openly acknowledged and addressed—and, in the process, shooing the elephant out of the room of porn.